Mark Harris, the Republican candidate for Congress in North Carolina whose campaign is at the centre of a fraud inquiry, Image Credit: New York Times

Washington: North Carolina officials on Thursday ordered a new congressional election after the contest — the last undecided race in the US House of Representatives — was tainted by fraud accusations.

The southeastern state’s board of elections voted to hold a new House race in the 9th District after Republican candidate Mark Harris, who is accused of hiring an operative involved in an absentee ballot tampering scheme, dramatically reversed course and called for a new vote.

Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in uncertified returns in the district.

“It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” Harris told the board of elections.

The five-member panel said it voted unanimously for a new election and will set the date at a subsequent meeting.

McCready hailed the move as “a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina.”

In earlier testimony, Harris had maintained he was unaware of any absentee ballot tampering, and had suggested there was a Democratic plot afoot to deny him a seat in Congress.

On Wednesday his own son John Harris, a federal prosecutor, testified that he had warned his father about hiring the operative, McCrae Dowless.

“In weighing it out, I did not consider John’s to be a warning that this was a problem,” the elder Harris said. “I just believed he was over-reacting.”

According to press reports, Dowless was responsible for the collection of incomplete absentee ballots from voters in at least one county.

Harris reportedly won 61 per cent of the absentee ballots in rural Bladen County — the only county in the district where mail-in ballots favored the Republican.

Democrats seized control of the US House in January following the November 2018 mid-terms, dealing a major blow to Republican President Donald Trump’s ability to push his legislative agenda through Congress.

Cases of outright US electoral fraud are rare despite Trump’s claims following the 2016 presidential election that “millions” of people had voted illegally.